Kobe is an important, bustling port town along the southern coast of Japan's main island, Honshū. Kobe is squeezed between the Rokko mountain range and the crescent-shaped Osaka Bay. Osaka lies across the bay from Kobe and Kyoto is about 45 miles away.
In the second half of the Nineteenth Century, Kobe was amongst the first ports to open-up to trade with the West—and developed rapidly in wealth and infrastructure. Like other important Asian port cities—Shanghai, Hong Kong—Kobe grew wealthy from the trade and developed an international, cosmopolitan personality from the interaction. The city, though modern and thoroughly Japanese, is dotted with remnants of the Late-Victorian and Edwardian era Western influence—buildings and houses that were built by Western merchants and diplomats.
Today, Kobe still serves as a busy port. Additionally, many Japanese and international companies have headquarters or offices in Kobe: Mitsubishi, Asics, Kawasaki, Proctor & Gamble, Nestlé. With 1.5 million inhabitants, Kobe keeps busy with shipping, white collar business and industrial production.
I am always intrigued by port cities. I admire their cosmopolitan worldliness which comes from interaction with people of many cultures and stations in life. And the wealth accumulated—as money flowed through the port cities—always leaves them with interesting, historic relics of a time gone by. Think Shanghai, Venice, Genoa, New Orleans, San Francisco.
The mural above, shown only in-part, depicts a Nineteenth Century view of the bustling Port of Kobe. The mural is in the Kobe-Sannomiya subway station.
The mural depicts the port on the Bay of Osaka, the rolling "hills" of Mount Rokko, the bustling city between the mountains and water, and the various characters that populated Nineteenth Century Kobe. In the detail image directly above, we see Japanese and Western city dwellers, dressed in their traditional clothing. Given the humid Summer atmosphere, I'd say the Japanese denizens were one step ahead in the sartorial game.
More from Japan tomorrow and in the days to come.
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